Studying birds helps researchers determine how babies learn talk

June 30, 2013 at 8:05 PM
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NEW YORK, June 30 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they have gained insight into how babies learn to speak from teaching birds new songs.

The scientists say the difficulty birds have learning a new song that only involves a simple switch in pattern,suggests it is the learning the transition between syllables that is the bottleneck between infants babbling and talking, The New York Times reported Sunday.

"We've discovered a previously unidentified component of vocal development," Dina Lipkind, a psychology researcher at Hunter College in Manhattan who is the study's lead author, said. "What we're showing is that babbling is not only to learn sounds, but also to learn transitions between sounds."

The Times said beyond providing insight into language acquisition by infants, the study lead to solving human speech disorders.

"Every time you find out something fundamental about the way development works, you gain purchase on what happens when children are at risk for disorder," D. Kimbrough Oller, a language researcher at the University of Memphis who was not involved in the study, told the Times.

The study was published online May 29 in the journal Nature.

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